Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger reacts after an executive session briefing on the stalled CityPlace development project on Monday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
BURLINGTON — Brookfield Asset Management is considering an “extensive” redesign of the major downtown CityPlace development project, an architect working on the project told a group of city officials outside of a City Council executive session within earshot of reporters Monday.
Architect Will Fellows of PKSB Architects told a group that included consultant Jeff Glassberg and former interim CEDO director David White that the planned changes were “quite radical” and could delay the project further. Developer Don Sinex told Fellows about the changes after Sinex learned about them from Brookfield.
Approached afterward by a reporter, Fellows, who has worked with Sinex on the project, said that his statements were not meant to be overheard.
“It’s all hearsay,” he said. “I really can’t talk about it.”
The site of the $220 million development has sat empty as projected construction start dates have come and gone. The one-year mark since construction stalled approaches in August.
With the exception of the removal of the billboards featuring Sinex surrounding the site last month, the site looks the same as it did following the conclusion of the demolition of the former mall last summer.
Mayor Miro Weinberger said the city expected Brookfield to make a statement later this week updating the public on the status of the project.
“The core of this is the private development, and I think it’s critical that Brookfield be the one to update the public on the status,” he said.
The city is planning on using $22 million in tax increment financing for public improvements, primarily to pay to connect Pine and St. Paul streets from Cherry to Bank streets, which would go through the development project.
Glassberg, the consultant hired by the city to manage their end of the project, gave the update to the council in executive session. After the meeting, he said “change” was going to be the theme of Brookfield’s communication.
“Our effort is to get construction underway, and we’re trying to figure out the shortest path to get there,” he said
Weinberger would not confirm or deny if Brookfield was considering major design changes.
“I’ll have a lot more to say when they have done what is really their job, which is to update the public and everyone who’s been involved in this bidding process,” Weinberger said.
Glassberg said he did not know if there were going to be major design changes.
“We’ve got a whole lot of issues in the air with the project developer,” he said. “It’s the third week of July and they’re not under construction. Something is likely to change.”
While concerns from the public and city officials about the lack of construction progress on the project continues to grow, Brookfield has vowed that the company was completely committed to the project and working toward starting construction.
Neither Sinex nor representatives of Brookfield were present at Monday’s meeting.
Voegele, the senior vice president for development of Brookfield Properties, did not respond to calls and emails requesting an update on the project. Sinex replied to an email only to say that questions should be directed to Voegele.
In May Brookfield was working on finalizing the project’s financing after securing a term sheet from the Bank of the Ozarks. Voegele said Brookfield was also evaluating the project’s design, reviewing construction bids, working with the city on utilizing tax increment funding, or TIF, for public improvements and fighting a lawsuit filed by project opponents.
These steps were laid out in a check-list of “milestones” that the developers had to accomplish before the restart of construction, according to a memo Brookfield provided to the City Council. It’s unclear how much progress has been made on the steps laid out in that memo.
City attorney Eileen Blackwood recommended Monday’s update be held in executive session as it related to the city’s development agreement with the developers. Progressive councilors Max Tracy and Perri Freeman voted against holding the executive session.
Brookfield’s last appearance before the City Council was April 30, when Voegele said that Brookfield could not specify a date for the restart of construction. Brookfield said they were aiming for a June 1 restart after Sinex told VTDigger in March that construction would restart May 6.
While Sinex had been the public face of the project, Brookfield increased its involvement last fall and told the council in January that Brookfield was now involved in the day-to-day management of the project.
Aidan Quigley / VTDigger's Burlington and Chittenden County reporter.